Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Friday, 8 May 1970

Mr SPEAKER - Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?

Mr FAIRBAIRN - Yes. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that 1 was revealing the nature of Cabinet discussions. T should like to make it perfectly clear that in my statement 1 referred to 3 documents, none of which was a Cabinet document. Two of those 3 documents related to meetings of the Australian Minerals Council and the Prime Minister and every State Premier said that those could be tabled, and they are now available to honourable members. The third document that I referred to is the minutes of the meeting of the Ministers for Mines held in Melbourne on 13th March this year. 1 spoke to the Minister for Mines in New South Wales, Mr Fife, and he said that he could see no objection to my quoting from this document, lt is well known that many copies of it are available throughout the Commonwealth. I just made the point that I did not at any stage reveal the nature of Cabinet discussions.

Mr SWARTZ(Darling Downs - Minister for National Development) - by leave - Dealing with the last point that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) raised in relation to a debate on this matter, we have granted leave to him to comment as we gave leave to the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) to make his comments. I should like to direct the attention of the House to the fact that the request made by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) originally was for certain documents to be tabled. The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) gave an undertaking that the correspondence and the minutes concerned would be tabled in the House. This was the request at the time. We have subsequently looked through the correspondence. We have cleared the matter with the State Ministers for Mines and the Prime Minister has also cleared the matter with the State Premiers and we have their authority to table the documents in Parliament. This has been done. The undertaking that was given has been fulfilled. lt was not intended that this was to be a debate. It was never suggested that this would be a matter in relation to which a statement would be made and a debate ensue, lt was an undertaking to table some documents so that they would be available to any honourable member or publicly to the Press if the Press required them for information during the debate which will ensue on the second reading of the Bill before the House at the present time on the territorial sea, and on a subsequent Bill to be introduced relating to a mining code for off-shore minerals other than petroleum. This was the purpose of tabling the documents and T can assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, of the fact that the statement for which leave was given today by the honourable member for Farrer came as a surprise to me, as I am sure it did to the honourable member for Dawson. We would not withhold leave if the honourable member wished to make a statement at this time, as we did not withhold leave from the Leader of the Opposition.

I merely say by way of explanation that whatever undertaking was given has been honoured in full on behalf of the Prime Minister. 1 make that explanation because when f checked to sec whether, I could move that the paper be printed I found that there was no way in which I could do that at this time because there was no paper. I had not made a statement; I was merely tabling the document in accordance with the undertaken given. If any discussion is to ensue it will ensue by leave being granted as it was on this occasion. So there is no point of disagreement, I am sure, in relation to that.

Mr Whitlam - I am not suggesting that you have broken any undertaking.

Mr SWARTZ - Good, we understand the position. The Leaders of the Opposition also referred to the question of the creation of a precedent by the actual tabling of the copies of these letters and the minutes. It was fairly obvious from the information that had come to the knowledge of the Government and to the Opposition that the contents of the minutes of the 2 meetings concerned were widely known. It appears that the documents, although actual minutes of the Australian Minerals Council, apparently had been made available, not by the Commonwealth but by some person or persons to members of this House and to State members or other people within the States. Because quotations were made from the minutes it became apparent that there was a degree of public knowledge of the minutes concerned. I know that some members of the Opposition, if they had these documents, or extracts from them, in their possession could quite rightly use them. The point is that the Government knew that the contents of the documents had to some degree become known. Because of the delicate nature of the situation, which impinges on the background and because of the honour of individuals was involved, as mentioned by the honourable member for Farrer, when the request was made by the honourable member for Dawson the Government felt, and the Prime Minister agreed, that the matter was so important that an exception should be made in this case. This was firstly because of the delicate nature of the subject and, secondly, because of its impact on certain persons who have held or are holding high offices in the Government. The third reason for making an exception was that the Opposition rightfully needed to be in possession of the information in the correspondence and the documents so that its members would be in a position to enter the debate with background knowledge of the matters that were being raised.

On that basis the Prime Minister gave an undertaking in this House to the honourable member for Dawson who had raised the matter by way of a motion for the suspension of the relevant standing orders to permit the moving of a motion for the tabling of these documents. The Prime Minister agreed on behalf of the Government that the documents would and could be tabled if the State Ministers for Mines or any other Ministers concerned agreed. The Premiers of the States, in response to a letter sent to them by the Prime Minister, agreed and the State Mines Ministers who are directly concerned also agreed, that all the correspondence referred to and copies of the minutes of the 2 meetings might be tabled. Telegrams were sent by the State Mines Ministers in response to my telegram, and letters were sent by the State Premiers in response to the letter from the Prime Minister. I say this to explain the unusual circumstances associated with the matter and to show why the documents have been tabled at the request of the Opposition on this occastion

In order to clear up a few points I refer to some comments made by the honourable member for Farrer. I will not elaborate on them because my second reading speech on the Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill was fairly extensive and covered most of the legal points involved and the whole of the background to the matter. I will be making a short second reading speech when the second Bill is available within the next few weeks. So I will not go into detail on the many matters in the Bill which I have already covered. Copies of my second reading speech are available to honourable members and I am sure that most of them have read it.

I would like to clarify a couple of points which may not have been covered in my second reading speech. At the outset I would like to pay special tribute to my colleague, the honourable member for Farrer. I have complete confidence in him as an individual and complete confidence in his honour, his integrity and his intentions. I do not think that anyone in this House would doubt these qualities, and I have no doubt about them. I know that the Prime Minister would not have any doubt about the honourable member's integrity and standing. The very fact that he has, because of certain beliefs that he holds, raised this matter on the present basis confirms that situation. So I say at the outset that any comment that 1 make has no relationship to the individual integrity of the honourable member for Farrer, who has been a personal friend of mine for many years and who has been a friend J am sure, of every member in this House whom he has known. 1 would just point out that from the time when the honourable member left the portfolio of National Development and I was appointed to it a few months ago there was a change as far as the Government is concerned. On taking up my new portfolio one of my tasks, as I understood it, was to try to cover the whole of the background of the Department as quickly as possible and in particular to make personal contacts and examine individually all the major developmental sites throughout Australia. Before the Parliament met 1 had also to contact individually the Ministers with whom I would have future dealings. I had just a few weeks in which to do this. Many Cabinet meetings were held during that period, but I am happy to say that by the time we met in this Parliament I had been able to visit every major development centre in Australia and I had contacted either every Minister concerned or, if a Minister was not there, the head of his department. This involved 4 or 5 Ministers in each State or, in some cases, 2 or 3 Ministers.

The programme which 1 had undertaken during that period was a pretty intense one. Fortunately I was able to achieve it. Subsequently 1 found the advantage of having made those contacts and also of having been able to inspect the various sites. I. am merely explaining this to indicate that many things had to be attended to and that it was extremely difficult to attend to them in the short time available. The full details referred to by the honourable member for Farrer did not come to my knowledge until weil after the Cabinet meeting at which the Commonwealth, after carefully examining the submissions from the States, gave a firm decision in relation to the matter in the Bill which is now before the House and which I introduced. It was not until some time after that meeting that I realised that the previous Minister for National Development had firmly believed that an undertaking to discuss the matter further with the States had been given. I am merely trying to explain the problem of lack of time at that particular stage.

After the decision was made by the Government there was a matter of only a few weeks before Parliament sat. The best that I could do in the circumstances was to inform the States by telegram before any public announcement was made as to the future intentions of the Government in relation to the matter. This was done the day before the Governor-General mentioned the matter publicly in his Speech. But that was not the introduction of the legislation. After the House had met I arranged as quickly as I could to meet the State Mines Ministers to discuss the matter. This discussion was undertaken, and in accordance with the previous undertaking, excluding the public intimation made by the Governor-General in his Speech of the Government's intention, we did meet the Mines Ministers in Melbourne before the introduction of the legislation in this House. 1 know that the honourable member for Farrer and the State Mines Ministers who have expressed themselves fairly forcibly on this matter do not believe that that met the requirements..! was disappointed in the honourable member for Farrer in that he quoted from correspondence between him, as Minister for National Development at the time, and the Prime Minister. I may have to withdraw this if he has contacted the Prime Minister, but I do not know whether he contacted the Prime Minister and received the Prime Minister's approval to quote from the correspondence in this House. That would be the only point on which I would disagree with him in relation to the action he has taken in referring to these matters; that is, that he referred to correspondence - between a Minister and the Prime Minister without both parties being in agreement. But, of course, he may have contacted the Prime Minister at the time.

Mx Whitlam - That is what I referred to as revealing Cabinet documents.

Mr SWARTZ - It was not a Cabinet document; it was merely correspondence. Reference was made by the honourable member for Farrer to the fact that there was an agreement. I am not quite sure whether he is referring to an agreement regarding a meeting or an agreement on the intentions of the Commonwealth in relation to taking the head of power as it has taken in the Bill. The documents disclose that there was no agreement by the States in relation to the 3-mile limit or to any proposal that had been put forward. In fact, they made their situation quite clear, namely, that they disagreed with the proposal put up at that time and that they asked for the information they provided at the meeting to be referred back to Federal Cabinet, as it was.

Indeed, as my colleague the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Hughes) reminds me, they put a counter-proposal that mirror legislation along the lines of the petroleum legislation should be introduced. So, in fact, there was no agreement with the States in relation to the measure that is presently before the House. There is also a communique which was released by agreement between the State Mines Ministers and the Commonwealth Minister after the meeting on 3rd March - I think. one was also released after the meeting in September - and which quite clearly set out where the States stood in relation to the proposal that had been put forward by the Commonwealth to them for consideration.

There is just one final point that I want to make. Again I express a little disappointment that the matter to which I am about to refer has been brought up in the way it has. The honourable member for Farrer quoted from some minutes of a meeting of States Mines Ministers which, I think, was held in Melbourne. Let me say that he has the advantage of having a copy of those minutes, apparently; but I have not. I have never seen them. I know that they exist because they have been quoted on a couple of occasions; but I have never yet seen them. I have never had paid to me the courtesy of having a copy of them sent to me. I am not unhappy about that, but I feel that a copy should have been sent to me because my name was mentioned on quite a number of occasions.

Mr Whitlam - One of the Ministers is a constituent of the honourable member for Farrer.

Mr SWARTZ - I will not answer that interjection. The point is that, as reference was made to me in my capacity of Minister for National Development, I believe that it would have been the right thing for a copy of the minutes to be sent to me. But that was not done.

The point was made that I had stated publicly that I had been in contact with all the State Mines Ministers and had discussed the Commonwealth decision with them all. I cannot repeat what takes place in party meetings, but I would like to say that apparently this came about as a result of a Press report - again incorrect - of something I was alleged to have said in a party meeting. The matter was raised subsequently at a meeting at which the honourable member for Farrer was present. I am not giving out confidences from a party meeting - because I have said this publicly - when I say that I said at the time that I denied having made such a statement, I never did make such a statement and, of course, I never did discuss the matter with all the Mines Ministers.

What I did say - and I repeat it now - was that I discussed the matter raised in 1 instance with the State Mines Minister in Adelaide, and also with the Mines Minister in Perth, principally because the Minister in Perth was considered to be the leader of the Mines Ministers, being the longest serving Mines Minister. I would like to clear up this matter because a considerable time of the meeting to which I referred a moment ago was taken up on this point of a statement that I was alleged to have made, namely, that I had discussed the matter with all the State Mines Ministers. I categorically say again that I did not, that I did not make such a statement and that the Press report that appeared after the party meeting was incorrect. Unfortunately, this is the second point on which I am a little disappointed, because the honourable member for Farrer was present when I made that denial.

I leave the matter there because there will be a debate on the Bill that is presently before the House and by that time the second Bill may have been introduced. Although it is a complementary Bill, probably some debate will ensue on it. But the principal debate will take place on the Bill that is presently before the House, lt was the intention, at the request of the honourable member for Dawson, that the papers concerned here be made available so that the Opposition principally, and also members of the Government parties, would be in possession of the facts, which they could use, if they required to, during that debate.

Dr Patterson - T seek leave to make a statement.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Isleave granted?

Mr Snedden - No.

Suggest corrections